The report documents gender gaps in the access to a wide range of agricultural resources, including land, livestock, farm labor, education, extension services, credit, fertilizers and mechanical equipment.

Women in all regions generally have less access to land than men. For those developing countries for which data are available, between 3 percent and 20 percent of all landholders are women. The share of women in the agricultural labor force is much higher and ranges from 20 percent to 50 percent in developing country regions. 

"Women farmers typically achieve lower yields than men, not because they are less skilled, but because they operate smaller farms and use fewer inputs like fertilizers, improved seeds and tools," said Terri Raney, editor of the SOFA report.

Leveling the ploughing field

"Evidence from many countries shows that policies can promote gender equality and empower women in agriculture and rural employment. The first priority is to eliminate discrimination under the law," Raney said. "In many countries women do not have the same rights as men to buy, sell or inherit land, to open a savings account or borrow money, to sign a contract or sell their produce. Where legal rights exist on paper, they often are not honored in practice."

Government officials must be held accountable for upholding the law and women must be aware of their rights and empowered to claim them.

Women face multiple constraints in agriculture arising from the complex nature of agricultural production and from competing demands on their time. To be effective, interventions must be "bundled" so they treat these constraints together, the report says.

Policies and institutions often have different impacts on men and women - even when no explicit discrimination is intended. "Men and women have different roles in society and face different opportunities and constraints," said Raney. "We can't make good agricultural policy unless we consider gender differences."

Building human capital

In addition to increasing overall agricultural production, closing the gender gap in agriculture would also put more income in the hands of women - a proven strategy for improving health, nutrition and education outcomes for children. 

"One of the best investments we can make is in building the human capital of women and girls - basic education, market information and agricultural extension services are essential building blocks for agricultural productivity and economic growth," Raney said.